Adaptor: Rose Biggin (from the novel by Mary Shelley)
Director: Amy Liptrott
Reviewer: Stephen M Hornby
Victor Frankenstein is full of ideas about the source novel, about performance, and about the nature of theatrical experience but these never quite come together into a coherent and satisfying production. There are many strong elements here but they are undermined by a range of running gags that trip the dramatic content of several key scenes and leave it sprawling on the floor.
The play opens with a monologue by Victor hinting at elements of the story he will tell, breaking off at points as he cannot give voice to things that have happened that are so terrible. We then move to the start of the familiar Shelley story, with scenes from Victor’s childhood, his deepening relationship with his cousin Elizabeth, his scholastic success and arrival at the University of Ingolstadt.
Then the story darkens as Victor discovers how to apply alchemical knowledge from a forgotten age to make a living creature. He rapidly turns this knowledge into action and comes to regret the life he gives his creation. The narrative is interrupted by a member of the audience after Frankenstein has destroyed the mate that he almost makes for the original creature and a whole different narrative emerges to challenge the account of events we have been told by Frankenstein and create a fresh perspective on the relationship between man and creature.
Fiona Paul plays Victor Frankenstein, complete with make-up and a tight fitting blouse. Her command of the character blurs the gender mismatch and it is easy to accept her as Victor. Joe Bateman as Actor plays a series of different rôles, marking them each out with strong characterisation, good comic timing and a variety of vocal performances. Amy Du Quesne is commanding as the Heckler and immediately takes control of the stage.
The main criticism of the performances is the volume. Paul in particular shouts practically every line and those that aren’t shouted still boom around this modest studio space. She is clearly a very able actress, so the decision to give such a shouty performance is bizarre and drives out a subtler more nuanced Victor that could have been there. Bateman and even Du Quesne all also spend a lot of time shouting, so responsibility for this limiting and wearing choice must sit with the director Amy Liptrott.
There is also a fundamental problem with the play, partly in the writing and partly in the directing, which tries to be a comedy and then switches mid-scene or even mid-sentence back into a horror drama. The tone is a mess. The audience end up laughing at coarse comedy, such as a man in a terrible wig playing a female part or an anachronistic packet of crisps, instead of feeling Victor’s horror or the creature’s outrage. And the ending of the script, like many of the terribly misplaced comedy asides throughout, might have looked sophisticated on the page, but comes across as uncomfortable and self-indulgent for the audience, as the discomfort serves no purpose.
Several comedy versions of Frankenstein have been done with great success, but this uneasy blend is not one of them.
The performers are all strong, and the script is peppered with concise and vivid imagery, but rather like Dr Frankenstein sewing together lots of different elements, the result, if not monstrous, is often poorly judged and self-sabotaging.
Runs until 22 February 2014